Here’s What We Tell the Kids

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Put Your Warrior Boots On, April 2017, Acknowledgments…

G, M, and S: My darlings, Jesus is the only thing in life. That’s all I can tell you. You’ll need these warrior boots, more than you may now know. Never forget to put them on or that your mom loves you, forever.

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It’s true, that so many things start for one reason and manifest in another.

When I started writing Put Your Warrior Boots On some months ago, it wasn’t for my children. The election hadn’t happened. Distraught parents weren’t on social media asking now after all this and the outcome, what do I tell my kids? But now, all of that and more than ever, the knowledge of how to walk Jesus strong is ever so necessary for us, and maybe especially…yes, for the kids.

Just to be clear. The world didn’t get crazy 7 days ago. The world was already crazy and the aftermath of last Tuesday just brought it out with blazing vengeance.

I have written several versions of this post and deleted them all – because I refuse to get caught up in rhetoric and frenzy and divisiveness of this election.

I know some will say this post is small and not addressing the challenges. I can live with that assessment because I know the truth: in all the years I’ve written and spoken a solo message, and that won’t change now: it’s always God, only God, forever God. Things and people and kings and angels and demons and the madness of this world, all fall in line under Him. I stake every thing in my life on Him, and dare not be confident in anything else I might want to contribute.

(For further opinion: feel free to visit any social media outlet to read the take of thousands of others who have well exercised their freedom to speech. There’s plenty of both wisdom and verbal smog to go around.)

My words in this space are for our children, the ones we don’t know what to say to in this moment…and for ourselves, too, as we are so often as frail and needy as are they.

Today, as yesterday, we tell our children to trust God. We tell them He is the answer for the world, yesterday, today, tomorrow, and forever. We tell them that even smart people get it wrong and we are all wise in our own eyes, which is why we need to pray so very much because we all think we are right.

We tell them that God is strong and powerful and no election or unrest changes that. We tell them He is trustworthy and doesn’t make promises He can’t keep or say things out of turn — ever, even though everyone else does.

We tell them all is His. All is His, forever and ever amen, and though people forget that, it doesn’t change Kingship or sovereignty.

We tell them that the Bible says that no weapon formed against them will prosper. We tell them this when they are lied straight to by Satan to make them believe their life is unstable. With Jesus, it is not.

We tell them when fear is around, God is not in that, so we must pray to get out of the fear cycle. We tell them to answer fear with praise and praying the Word of God, which always calms and heals. We tell them that God is their God, and their life is not their own to be wasted on arguments and hating people or loving self too much but to be used for His honor and glory to be a light in this dark world.

We tell them they are ok because Jesus is in charge and well in command. We tell them we don’t have to understand how that works to believe that it is. This is called faith.

We tell them to pray for a heart of peace like never before, even before they pray for their very own country…because we know that hearts at peace cannot also be at war, which solves the problem.

And we tell ourselves these things, too, and turn off the tv and vitriolic social media (which only distracts us from our power source) as we declare the Word of God over our own life and heart and mind – fortifying the weak and worried places…looking to the One who has remained present and strong in every chaos of this world through the ages and is equally present, still.

If this is all we can tell them, then we have told them everything. The greatest disaster in this moment is not having to tell them hard things about political leaders but if we miss this opportunity to tell them about the ultimately security plan in Jesus Christ, which transcends current mess and transfers to any future situation.

All is His, my friends. All is His.

The Graduation Gift I’m Giving My Son

IMG_0595It’s here. This season, the one when he was a baby, well meaning people would look at me and tell me would come, as quick as I could blink.

My son is graduating from high school. It is new, unchartered water for the Whittles.

We’ve never had a child go live in another place. We’ve never packed up a life in some UPS boxes and said, now go figure things out. I cook the dinner. We consult about all the things. There are 5 people in our party, and I don’t want to start saying 4.

I go through plastic bins with old pictures of a baby with the biggest of eyes and a little boy with tiny teeth and a man haircut and those crazy early teen years where, bless, they don’t have a clue…pillowcases for capes and Halloweens as Jack Sparrow…and something inside cracks, especially when the worn Thomas the Train falls out and rolls onto the floor. They told me this day would come. I just didn’t know how to prepare for it.

Because you can’t.

But it’s here, the graduation in just a few days, and I am thinking about what I most want to give my son as a gift. And I know, it’s something of the heart and not the hands because mothers always give from the heart, first, anyway.

For graduation, I’m giving my son something hard and special: the gift of not making this about me.

It’s hard…because what I really want to do is sit and bawl my eyes out, replay every precious moment, grab him at the ankles and beg him not to go. (Well, this is honest.)

It’s special…because it’s a gift only I can give him. Moms and dads have this power, you know. And I remember because it’s a gift my parents gave to me which now I realize I far underestimated.

The truth is, we parented to get to this day. We endured the sleepless nights and baby reflux and zillions of diaper changes and baths…bedtime stories and prayers by the gallons…first crush, first kiss, first cell phone, first job. Hours of questioning and lecturing, ok maybe, chewing out. Attitude that was awesome. Attitude that was bad. Tears of forgiveness and love and parents made proud.

Yes, this is the day that is supposed to come, the day that some of my friends never get to see because their own child went early to heaven. I always remember that.

And my son, my precious oldest son whose smile lights up my life, hugs pull at my heart, and laugh that will be oh so missed, deserves to start his future without me asking him to keep hanging on to the past.

The truth is, he was never mine, anyway.

God thought him up. He attached the DNA, formed the brain, painted in those beautiful blue green eyes. I always remember this.

My son must go and start his grown up life. I mourn this in some ways, but mostly I celebrate. He gets to go and make decisions, and some of them will be hard and some he will choose wrong. He gets to go find a life mate. And I will keep praying for her, because I know this is a most crucial choice.

My son must go and break from me. The little letting gos in the past year or two make it easier, but I never want the break. If I make this about me, I curl up in a ball and stop my own life from living.

So for graduation, I will expect the tears and not try to block them. I will hug as long as I want and kiss both cheeks and the forehead and hands until he says to me, ok, mom with the side grin that tells me to stop. p.s. I think, as his mom, I’ve earned a little mush.

I will tell him I’m proud and tell him how excited I am for his future because only God and I know how we’ve prayed for it.

And on that graduation morning, June 11, I will get up with joy, put on my very best dress and woot like a loon when he walks across that stage with honors. I will hold my husband’s hand and mouth we did it, because every parent knows we are graduating, too.

I will look at my other children and the grandparents, family and friends who have come from miles to gather and soak in what love and commitment looks like.

I will praise my God because He, alone, keeps the mama of a graduating child sane and remains the reason for our daily coming and going.

And when it is all said and done, I will give my son the best gift a mother can ever give: I will not make the graduation about me. After I’ve hugged as long as I want and cried all the expected tears, I will pull back and let go and dry the tears up so he is not burdened with the job of taking care of me. He has a lifetime to take care of people. Right now, he gets to be a kid and graduate.

I will, by the power of God, give my son this gift. I love him that much.

None of this was ever about me, anyway.

Dear Parent: Just Cheer.

IMG_9819I announced my son’s commitment to play football at Furman University last Monday to my family and friends via social media. Overwhelmed is not a big enough word for how I felt reading all the congratulations. How does one describe how it feels to be loved?

But there’s a backstory to the whole thing, and I think you should know it. Because in it, there are some nuggets I believe may mean something to you, too.

When Graham was little, he loved to draw. He would spend hours sketching and shading and imagining and coloring. Favorite super heroes, animals, you name it…the boy would bring it to life with his hands. Many days I stood in awe of the talent and hung up as many of his pictures as would fit on my wall.

But in that admiration there was also a tinge of sorrow. Because I had dreams for my oldest son and in retrospect, they were mostly about me. I bought into the silent expectation that in order for boys to be manly they needed to be all about sports and my son just wasn’t. He never knew, but inside, as silly as it sounds, I mourned the loss of a dream I didn’t have a good reason to want.

But over time, and after some tears and prayers, I put the dream away. And I fully embraced the new dream of seeing him use his artistic talents for the glory of God. I even got excited. I stocked him up on all the pencils and pens and paper and watched him create amazing things, day after day.

You can imagine, then, my surprise, when years later he comes home to tell me he’s playing football at recess. I like it, he says, and I can see the eyes gleam. More and more, he plays football outside, while the art sits on the table waiting patiently for him to return. Soon he no longer picks up the pencils. The artist inside him never leaves but it grows quieter and quieter until one day, he draws no more. And I must, once again, change gears. And I must, once again, mourn another dream.

But this is parenthood, is it not? The sweetest slow death to me.

Graham became quite an athlete.

I could tell you all the things, because I have them memorized: the plays, the catches, the touchdowns, the interceptions: I remember each one. But I memorized the tears, too, and sometimes their memory is stronger. I memorized the days he lived some challenging things in a changing environment throughout his high school football career. I memorized the sound of a coach’s voice that did not believe in him, the smells and sounds of grueling days of summer football practice, the day he told his teammates he was leaving his senior year to go to a different school. The dream felt especially bad that day.

And as any good cheerleader would, I stood on the sidelines and watched and cheered. I watched him thrive, and grow and learn. I watched him do hard things with determination. I watched him earn the respect of new teammates and coaches and earn the right to start the game and play both sides of the ball. I watched him be interviewed for the paper and send me joyful texts about how he was highlighted again in the news as a player to watch. And as with every other time he chased a dream in all of his 18 years, I fought to make the dream not about me.

And now here we are with a grown up young man and his dream to play college football, which has unbelievably become real. And I realize really all of it has been a leap: to risk, to rise, to change, to obey the voice of God, to cheer from the sidelines. There has been hard work and there has been inexplicable favor. Crazy God things that are too long to write in this blog that I wish we could sit down over coffee and let me tell you.

But I want you to know this, about your own life, too:

  1. Sometimes dreams don’t die but they go dormant for awhile and then God gives them back to you. Just always be ready to change gears.
  2. Sometimes people won’t believe in you. It’s ok: it doesn’t change you having the goods.
  3. Follow leads, walk through doors, take risks, if no other reason…so you can never say it was because you didn’t even try.
  4. Pray and trust God. Pray and trust God. Pray and trust God.
  5. (Parents) Don’t make your kid’s dreams about you.

You never know when God may dream up something better or give the old dream back.

In the meantime, just cheer.FullSizeRender

Finding Your Family Mission

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It’s January.

The husband and I have just finished Francis Chan’s book, You and Me Forever, a marriage book but really not. It’s a wanting God most book- the kind that seeps into bones and positions for holy change.

Chapter 4 has stayed with us, gotten us talking about living with a mission. We are mission-minded people at the core — GIDS (get it dones) our mentor, Monty, calls us. But too often, and this is just real talk, the mission revolves around us. It involves the getting more and going on vacation and working towards something big and fun. The God mission is always there but life often pushes it to second. We minister solo but not as often, together. And we both know: it’s time for more team.

Because there is nothing more powerful than a family on a mission. 

We start with prayer, more of it, because what else when you don’t know where to start? We begin to turn off tvs and phones for one hour every Wednesday night, which seems small compared to the hours of the day, but never feels small in the moment because tvs and phones tend to be persuasive. The first 30 minutes we spend in different parts of the house, alone, hearing from God, solo. When we get back together in a few minutes, bring the words, verses, and phrases God speaks to your heart to share, we tell our 3 kids. We wing this. We don’t have a lot of experience.

Open. Bless others. Light. One. These are some of the words we bring back. And trust. Yes, that one comes up a few times, I notice.

In our coming back together time, on more than one Wednesday night around our family room’s leather ottoman, tears drip onto its top. We are a good family. A solid one. Our kids say grown-up prayers. But we don’t usually pray like this and the walls feel it. We are asking God for why we exist and what He wants us as a group to do – something, I’m convinced He finds precious in a family.

Tell us. Show us, we pray. What are the Whittles supposed to do? We ask Him.

Because when a family finds its mission it finds its pulse and we want ours.

Let me be honest. I’m initially thinking it’s a quote – a Chickfila type mission statement we can hang on the wall and of course, I know just where to hang it. I’ll call my favorite artist. She’ll make me a beautiful print. It’ll be a reminder for years to come, what the Whittles exist to do. Words on canvas. Awesome. Neat.

(I should tell you some back story, quickly. My husband and I have had a dream for awhile, and it started with taking a young man into our home his senior year of high school to live with us a few years ago. We sort of knew at that moment, in the way your gut tells you, that this was part of who we always wanted to be: housing people…missionaries, aging parents, college students, whomever God sent. We’ve had the plan: to build a smaller home with an apartment addition, and we’ve had the land to do it. What we haven’t had was the money. With 3 private school tuitions every month and all the 5 people expenses, our dream has had to wait.)

p.s. God dreams never die. But sometimes they wait.

At the time we start this move towards mission and team, we have issues. Marriage ones, financial ones, and we determine to work at both. (As you know, issues can be great catalysts for change.) We share this with our kids, openly, yet appropriately in the Wednesday night gatherings. I tell them about my personal shopping fast. The hubs tells them about his work modifications. We ask them to pray for us, for strength.

And life goes on like normal. Until June.

I’m left wondering when, if ever, the mission for the wall print will come. My husband and I again pray, this time committing to 40 dedicated days, and in 4 short ones our world turns like a rollercoaster on crack. It’s sudden, but not.

Too many details to share – you’ll have to just trust me that they are huge. God things. Unexpected things that happen without our permission and look like the worst for a few moments but turn out to be inexplicably the best. (The God best things often look bad, yes? And sometimes things blow up before they become beautiful. ) Major changes. Kids exercising faith. Saying yes. Looking with great anticipation to the future. Giving things over to God. Laying things down.

Living our mission.

We now know: our family mission won’t be a slogan to hang on our wall. It will be lived in real life.

~My son, a rising senior in high school who has gone to the same safe, familiar Christian school since kindergarten (please sit with this for a moment) will be moving to a large public school. He’s at peace and already thriving on his new football team. Honestly: thank you, Jesus.

~My daughter will be homeschooled for a year. (Pause. Never in my wildest.) She’s happy about some travel with me and getting really smart in Spanish, which will (ahem) not be taught by yours truly.

~Our family of 5 will be moving from a 3700 square foot house where we have lived for 10 years to a 1500 square foot house built in 1945. My big boys will share a room for the first time since they were toddlers, big hairy man feet and all. Call us nuts. We are all excited.

~We will work to save for one year to pay off our land and begin building the home to house us and anyone God sees fit to send our way. Our finances to God, on a new level. Actively working towards another piece of our family mission and slightly daunted yet exhilarated at the thought.

So if you see me selling furniture online, you will know it’s mere math: 3700 to 1500. Some things don’t fit.

And if you see me posting before and after pics of a 1945 house we are painting, you will know it is my effort to make a new/old home more cozy so give me a cyber hug and tell me it looks amazing.

And if you hear me struggling in the words I choose to share some days because so much change all at once and I’m way human, remind me that it’s always worth the mission. He’s always worth the mission. The end.

And please: we aren’t heroes. Our mission is so much smaller than others. But this is our offering and our yes. This is where we’ve been led at this moment. It’s our family team sacrificing for the bigger mission, being GID’s together. We don’t just want to talk about God. We want to experience God. I don’t just want to write books. I want to write in people’s hearts, starting with my own kids. (We think we mess them up when we make them change. I suspect the truth is we mess them up when we don’t.)

This is not an experiment for a new book. I love people who do cool things like that, but we are not that cool. It’s not for blog posts. I may not even talk about it anymore. This is about wanting God. I want God in my finances. I want God more than a big house. I want God more than I fear change for my children. A mission helps with that.

So in case you can relate to my words and for your family, long to find your own mission:

1) Want one. Everything starts with desire.

2) Pray. Your first and next best step. And then the next, and the next and every best step after that.

3) Respond. Be ready to move in whatever way that looks when the mission becomes clear. (And even when the mission is not exactly.)

Because a family that finds its mission finds God.

Trusting Lord, for it to be so.

(**I’d love to hear about your family mission. Or pray with you to find one. Or hear your encouraging words for our journey. Ain’t too proud to beg. :) Come see me on social media and let’s talk about it, there: Instagram, Twitter, Facebook)

Dear Kids: Forgive Us For How We’ve Raised You

(A note to the reader: See, this is why I don’t do series. Because constantly, in the middle of them, God interrupts my regularly scheduled thoughts and prompts new, urgent ones. Such is what has happened, today. So the series on Women ends in a quite unplanned way…with an open letter to the next generation…and to all adults who have heavily contributed to a culture we often criticize. May God help us all, as only He can.)

FullSizeRenderI scroll Facebook, and this headline comes up:

Sex assault charges tied to “50 Shades of Grey” movie.

The picture with it, of a young man only a few years older than my oldest son. His eyes look scared and dead, if that’s a possible combination for a mugshot.

And I think to myself, I’m sorry about everything about this. I’m sorry for this young woman who will be scarred for life. I’m sorry for this young man who made horrendous choices that will alter his future. I’m sorry for the culture that has celebrated perversion in a form of a “harmless” movie with pumped fists and squealing women and then asked young people not to skew sex. (Also? This is not really about 50 Shades of Grey. I never intended on writing about it, because many of my author friends seem to have that covered.)

And I know: it’s choice. And we all have it. And we must own ours and face consequences. And if this were my daughter. All of it. Period.

But I’m also tired of we, adults, blaming kids for the culture in which we have had a heavy hand in creating. I’m sad that we have sent young adults mixed messages from our life and not lived a better example of a steady, Godly one in front of them. So much so that it surprises young people (and they’ve told me) when an adult is real, honest, humble, and holy.

So I write this open letter to them…those young people we often blame for how the world is not how it used to be…to show them adults can own our stuff, too…to inspire them to be the kind of people that will lead us better than we’ve led them…and by the grace of God, for all of us to pursue living holy.

 Dear Kids:

Please don’t think sex is about Fifty Shades of Gray. That’s about abuse and perversion, things that tarnish and implode pure minds and hearts.

Please don’t think following Jesus is about celebrity status, glamour, or becoming famous. That’s pride and ego, which can’t co-exist with ministry, nor will it help you when times get tough and you realize following Jesus is gritty (often background) work. 

Please don’t accept being addicted to your phone, comfortable in the status quo, settled into a religious routine, selfish, unwilling to change, like you’ve seen adults in your life model for you. 

And p.s. yes, you are responsible for your own choices. The beauty of life is getting to choose the thing that makes our soul well, today. So please don’t use us as an excuse for why you can’t do right. But I know you’ve been influenced, so I’ll also stand as an adult and take adult responsibility for the culture we have largely created, yet blamed: in the mentor department, we have grossly fallen short. 

We have created impressions and mindsets with you about trust and relationships and worth by getting out of things we no longer enjoy, like many of our marriages.

We have asked TV and video games to be the teacher we were meant to be because we are too busy with our schedule to properly parent you. 

We have told you to love Jesus with our lips but not modeled the servant life. 

We’ve become parents who want you to like us, taken guilt parenting and indulgent parenting so far we’ve caused you to feel entitled, then gotten mad because you are. 

So, kids…pray for us, will you? Pray for the adults in your life that we will wake up, stop blaming society for things we have allowed into our homes, remember God again and rather than get offended, become determined to show you something different, from now on. 

We love you. We just haven’t always done it right. 

But God. He’s the answer, yesterday, today and forever. The only way to heaven. The glue in our marriages, if we let Him lead. The Creator of sex, not Hollywood. Capable of changing culture and being bigger than all the colossal shortcomings of people, everywhere, even the adult people in your life, which is really good news for us all. 

Maybe you don’t trust us. But you can always trust Him. 

Please go to the Word for answers. Please don’t follow the script of Hollywood. Please forgive we, adults, for not leading you better. 

Lead us, by the way you love God. Let Him start revivals deep in your soul, as great movements of God have often started in youth and spread to their elders. Show us how to serve. Determine to be better, do better than we’ve done. 

And give us grace, as our Heavenly Father so graciously gives us all. We are flawed humans, too. 

Amen. 

 

Why Moms Desperately Need to Have Something Of Our Own

photoI watch her, the youngest one with curls, readying her first day of school backpack.

It is just the right color, with just the right coral monogram, to fit just the right back of a young lady almost 12 years into life, I often still can’t believe is my own.

I ask the right mom questions in my head, silently: Did we spend enough time together this summer? Did we laugh enough, talk enough, play enough? Did I memorize her face enough that when she’s gone from me every day in school for hours I will be able to remember every second how sweet it is?

I’m not sure I like the answer.

I have learned by watching my friends a little farther down the parenting road: the different level of tough it takes to send a kid to college.  I know…this is only 6th grade and not 12th, but everyday that reality feels grossly close.

My friend posts a picture of her daughter about to walk into freshman orientation and the caption underneath which says, “there goes my life” and I know this is just a statement to say I’m sad she’s growing up, but I also know it is the way many of us feel when our role of mom changes with growing bodies and we aren’t needed the same way we once were when they were small.

We spend so much time pouring into our kids.  Good time.  Precious time.  Right time.

But in the process, often, we forget us.  The one God created as a person, not a role.  The one meant to do great things in life, great things for God, including yes, being a mom but not exclusively.

And it makes me feel pressed to speak to my other mom people and say to them in a way that fully understands, we have to have something else of our own before our kids go off and leave.

Not because it will change the level of love we have for our kids.  Not to diminish our role as mom or not see it as important.  The truth is, for most of us, being a mom is in the top 3 of our most favorite roles, ever.

But because we need to let our babies go when it’s time.  We need to not pull at their heels like they used to do to us when they were little, project our regrets of not being enough of a mom when they were always around onto them, cause them to feel guilty for leaving us.

We need to, yes, cry our eyes out for our feeling of loss but then be able to get up and move on in a way that never forgets the memories but doesn’t hold them up as gods only in love with the past.

We need to get on with a fresh mission in life. 

We will never stop being moms, thank God, but we also never stop the life mission God purposed for us as individual people.

And my daughter, the one with just the right backpack, will understand all this if she, too, one day becomes a mommy.

She will know what it’s like to give blood, sweat and (many) tears to a little body that grows big and outgrows the need to be taken care of in the same way as when she was small.

She will give her kids the moon and more and watch them receive it with open hands and take it with them as they walk out the door.  She will understand that the crazy is beautiful and the hard of raising them then letting them go is painful but good because it is exactly the way it is supposed to be.

She will find out what it means to get over herself for the better of someone she loves more  — be given a gift that isn’t really hers in the first place and what it feels like to have to give that gift back in a way that feels like someone has played a sick joke.

She will find out, either by understanding it early and preparing the best she can or by learning by fire: how important it is for her to find that something else in life that makes her blood pump and moves her everyday bones so that when the time comes that the door closes and a favorite role in the everyday walks away, she will have something else to keep her going.

~faith.

~a cause to become involved in.

~art.

~school.

~career.

~exercise.

~heathy adult friendships outside of the home.

photoOur heart may walk out the door and take the moon and more with them, but that doesn’t mean we stop living.

It means, instead, it is a fresh opportunity to start.

(p.s. Please someone…remind me of all this when my firstborn goes to college and I’m not being so smart or brave.)